'Soul murder': Clergy abuse survivors testify about torment during Baltimore archdiocese bankruptcy case

Alex Mann and Jonathan M. Pitts, Baltimore Sun on

Published in Religious News

BALTIMORE — As a young girl, Eva Dittrich sought forgiveness during confession at her Catholic church in Baltimore County because her grandfather was molesting her at home.

Her priest, Father Joseph Maskell, responded by telling her she was “a whore,” but that he would “try to cleanse me of my sins in private counseling sessions,” Dittrich said in court Monday.

“These sessions were actually sexual abuse,” she testified.

Maskell later invited her into his car and on boat rides, where he “violently raped” her, Dittrich recalled. “I tried to jump out of the boat. I would rather drown,” she said, adding that she attributed a lifetime of nightmares, tumultuous relationships and decades of intensive psychotherapy to the torment she endured decades ago.

Dittrich, 68, was the first of six survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to speak as part of the church’s bankruptcy case Monday. In a move that was unique but not unprecedented in bankruptcy proceedings, federal judge Michelle M. Harner allowed the survivors to shed light on the human toll of the systemic sexual abuse that underlies the case.

The leader of the archdiocese, Archbishop William Lori, sat in a swivel chair not far from the survivors who spoke Monday, listening intently as they told of the suffering they endured in his diocese, which covers most of Maryland.


“This is a day of liberation for me,” Dittrich said. “In this moment, in this courtroom, I was a victim. I was not a whore.”

When she finished speaking, tears in her eyes, Dittrich embraced Lori and the Most Rev. Adam J. Parker, the archdiocese’s auxiliary bishop.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, America’s oldest, declared bankruptcy Sept. 29. The strategic decision, designed to protect the church’s assets, came just days before Maryland’s Child Victims Act took effect. The landmark law lifted time limits for people who were sexually abused as children to sue the perpetrators and institutions that enabled their torment.

Survivors and their advocates, who had long fought to lift the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits, credited a report on clergy sex abuse by Maryland’s attorney general with pushing the legislature to pass the child victims law.


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